The Trump administration has determined that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by repressing Uyghur Muslims in its Xinjiang region, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Jan. 19.
Pompeo said he made the move “after careful examination of the available facts,” accusing the Chinese Communist Party of crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“Our exhaustive documentation of the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang confirms that since at least March 2017, local authorities dramatically escalated their decades-long campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz,” he said.
“Their morally repugnant, wholesale policies, practices, and abuses are designed systematically to discriminate against and surveil ethnic Uyghurs as a unique demographic and ethnic group, restrict their freedom to travel, emigrate, and attend schools, and deny other basic human rights of assembly, speech, and worship,” he said.
“PRC authorities have conducted forced sterilizations and abortions on Uyghur women, coerced them to marry non-Uyghurs, and separated Uyghur children from their families,” he said.
“Party apparatchiks have denied international observers unhindered access to Xinjiang and denounced reliable reports about the worsening situation on the ground, instead spinning fanciful tales of happy Uyghurs participating in educational, counter-terror, women’s empowerment, and poverty alleviation projects,” he said.
“Meanwhile, they are delivering far darker messages to their own people, portraying Uyghurs as ‘malignant tumors,’ comparing their faith to a ‘communicable plague,’ and exhorting the party faithful to implement a crushing blow, telling them ‘you can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one-by-one; you need to spray chemicals to kill them all,’” Pompeo added.
The rare American determination follows intensive internal debate after Congress passed legislation on Dec. 27 requiring the US administration to determine within 90 days whether the PRC had committed crimes against humanity or a genocide.
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The genocide determination came a day before President-elect Joe Biden was set to take office. Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation hearing on Jan. 19 he agreed with the genocide declaration. Biden’s Democratic campaign had declared, before the Nov. 3 U.S. election, that genocide was occurring in Xinjiang.
“I think we’re very much in agreement,” Blinken said. “The forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps; trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”
Asked how he would respond in his first 30 days as secretary of state, he replied: “I think we should be looking at making sure that we are not importing products that are made with forced labor from Xinjiang… we need to make sure that we’re also not exporting technologies and tools that could be used to further their repression. That’s one place to start.”
The US decision does not automatically trigger any penalties but means countries will have to think hard about allowing companies to do business with Xinjiang, a leading global supplier of cotton. Last week, Washington imposed a ban on all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang.
In his statement, Pompeo called “on all appropriate multilateral and relevant juridical bodies, to join the United States in our effort to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.”
The International Criminal Court can investigate crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but China — like the United States — is not a court member, so the situation in Xinjiang would have to be referred by the UN Security Council, where China could veto such a move.
An independent U.N. human rights panel said in 2018 that it had received credible reports that at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims had been detained in Xinjiang.
China’s communist government has said it has placed the Uyghurs and other Muslims in “vocational training centers” in a bid to stamp out extremism and give people new skills. It denies accusations of abuse. China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but last week it rejected as “lies” a congressional report that said “crimes against humanity — and possibly genocide — are occurring” in Xinjiang.
Faith leaders, activist groups and others have said crimes against humanity, including genocide, are taking place in Xinjiang. In August, religious leaders, including Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo and Indonesia’s Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, said in an open letter that the “repression” in the region has become “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust.”
The US State Department has declared that genocide occurred in at least five situations since the end of the Cold War — Bosnia in 1993, Rwanda in 1994, Iraq in 1995, Darfur, Sudan in 2004, and in areas under Islamic State control in Iraq in 2016 and 2017.
US officials said Pompeo viewed a lot of open-source reporting and evidence before making the declaration but did not provide specific examples. Pompeo last year referred to a report by German researcher Adrian Zenz that the PRC was using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against Muslims.
Under international law, crimes against humanity are defined as widespread and systematic, whereas the burden of proof for genocide — the intent to destroy part of a population — can be more difficult to prove.